Tipping the Iceberg: Contractors Share Enthusiasm for the Possibilities of 360° Photo Capture Technology

Apr 12, 2021 | Blog

Thought leaders know that the success or failure of adopting new technologies often depends on the adjustments of processes to create value for the organization. Their success stories and learnings from building processes around 360° photo capture show the measurable impact that modern technologies can have when they are implemented in the right way.

In February, I had the opportunity to sit in on the New York Festival of Construction Online panel discussion that included several HoloBuilder clients I’ve worked with and one of my colleagues. The panel was made up of thought-leading contractors who are using 360° photo capture technology for their projects.

It was an impressive lineup with a diverse perspective on the industry:

  • Hamzah Shanbari, Construction Technology & Innovation Manager, Haskell
  • Kieren Hunt, Company Planning Manager, ALEC
  • Janis Pieterwas, Innovation Manager Construction, GOLDBECK
  • Dave Dukes, BIM Manager / Digital Lead, Water, Ports and Power, Scotland, AECOM
  • Christian Claus, Chief Marketing Officer and Head of Partnerships, HoloBuilder

It was clear from their stories that the panelists are saving time and resources when it comes to capturing and properly documenting site photos. In fact, site capture is why most of them came to me and my team to get started with 360° photos. However, as they use it in real-world scenarios, they’re uncovering other use cases for the technology. For example, they’ve told me and shared with the panel that having photo evidence easily and reliably available is making the payment claims and disputes process an easier one to manage. A picture is hard to dispute in most cases, leading to quicker and easier resolutions.

While the collection of site photos still requires a consistent process, it’s now as easy as defining the frequency and location and assigning staff to walk the site with a 360° camera and the JobWalk app. There is less room for error and inconsistencies. Photos are always uploaded, documented, and available in the floor plan for anyone who requires them. The instant availability makes communication about the project easy and offers transparency into conditions for all the stakeholders including health and safety, clients, insurers, suppliers, and the project team. This is a common theme I hear from a lot of our clients.

Many of the panelists are just getting started with 360° photos but are already eager to see what the next generation of the technology will offer. With the addition of AI to interpret the data, integration with Autodesk BIM 360, and compatibility with drones and autonomous robots, what they’re doing now is just the tip of the iceberg.

Simplifying the photo process

The panelists made it pretty clear that the process efficiencies for capturing and documenting photos are a huge time saver. Most of them made their first foray into 360° photos to simplify documenting site conditions. It’s the most obvious use case and how many of our clients get started. The feedback I get is that the benefits and ROI are almost immediate. We all know the scenario of sending a field engineer or a team out to capture photos of a site. Someone has to upload those photos from the camera to the project files and in a perfect world consistently name, tag, and file them. Not only is the process time-consuming but more often than not you end up with folder after folder of indistinguishable photos. Over the life of a project, you can easily take thousands of photos and spend many hours managing them.

The way how progress is captured has changed significantly with 360° photo capture.

The way how progress is captured has changed significantly with 360° photo capture.

The panelist all spoke of the time savings when they transitioned to 360° technology. Now their photos are instantly named, tagged, and documented within the floor plan. They don’t need to use resources to upload and document everything. In fact, Kieren shared that ALEC started using 360° technology in October 2019 and in the past 14 months they average 20–25,000 photos per month on their job sites. Without the automation that comes with the 360° technology, this level of documentation likely wouldn’t have been possible. The amount of data they’ve collected in 14 months since transitioning to HoloBuilder is more than they collected in the previous 20 years. And the data is well documented so arguably far more meaningful.

The value of reliability

While it was clear that the entire process of taking and documenting photos is a huge time saver, another common theme emerged among their stories: Reliability.

Knowing what photos you have and knowing for certain that you can find them if you need them is having a meaningful impact on all kinds of processes for the panelists. Kieren told the audience that the different members of the ALEC team have come to rely heavily on the availability of current and comprehensive photos and that they’re quick to give feedback when a specific location hasn’t been captured recently.

My favorite example though came from Janis. He shared a story about leaving a job site and then receiving a request for a photo of a specific location on site. While he knew they had hundreds of photos from the project, he wasn’t sure if they had the photo being requested. And if that photo did exist, he wasn’t sure how to find it. Rather than spending hours looking through folders, he chose instead to drive back to the job site and take the photo. If that scenario were to happen today, a few clicks into the floor plan would have immediately given him the shot he needed. We hear similar stories from clients all the time. You might have the photo, but you’re not sure and you know it’ll be a long process to find it. You’ve got better things to do.

The central user interface elements for fast and easy access to relevant data and insights with 360° photo capture technology.

The central user interface elements for fast and easy access to relevant data and insights with 360° photo capture technology.

The panelists also spoke about the peace of mind that comes with knowing you have photo evidence of the entire job site at regular intervals should you require it for disputes or inspections. Janis shared that with 2D photos they’d think they captured everything, but when evidence was required, there was often uncertainty about whether the photos existed for the location and time they needed. And if the photos did exist, would they demonstrate the conditions in question? The 360° photos have eliminated that problem for GOLDBECK. There is a sense of “protection” for the contractors who completely and fully document conditions.

Kieren also knows firsthand the amount of time they used to spend looking through photos to find the ones required to resolve payment claims and disputes. Replacing their old process with 360° technology has removed the uncertainty of image availability. They now know that the photo evidence is very likely available. But more importantly, the ALEC team calculated that the time saved looking for those photos alone has paid for the HoloBuilder technology. All the other benefits appear to be icing on the cake for ALEC.

For Dave, their current 12 km, 900 diameter pipeline project is traveling through existing utilities, public spaces, and involves several sections of tunneling. They’ve been using HoloBuilder to fully document the conditions at the start of the project, at regular intervals during construction, and post-construction, so they can demonstrate that they’ve reinstated everything to its pre-existing conditions. A side-by-side comparison of the “before” and “after” photos act as clear evidence that the team has fulfilled their commitment.

Hamzah also shared that they use 360° photos as a permanent record of pre-work conditions, particularly for their retrofit and expansion projects. They used to rely on laser scanning, but it required a higher level of expertise, was more expensive, and often gave them more detail than was necessary.

A change in process and evolution in approach

For these panelists, the physical process for photo capture is changing and so is the overall approach.

“We used to take photos of specific activities or tasks like pouring concrete or ceiling closures. We don’t do that anymore,” said Kieren. “The focus now is on capturing locations and spaces.”

By capturing locations, the contractors can comprehensively document the conditions with less scheduling and involving fewer people. Janis shared that before they used 360° photos, they’d contact several parts of the team to capture site progress. Site engineers, MEP engineers, and other members of the team would all take different photos focusing on what they thought was important. But with 360° photos, everyone has the same data and the same view without being limited in how to use it.

And while there is still a need for a process when it comes to how photos are captured and used, by the accounts of these contractors, it’s a simpler one with HoloBuilder.

Hamzah reinforced the need for standardizing the process at Haskell, but because the technology does a lot of the work for you, there’s less room for errors, missed steps, or personal interpretation of what should be photographed. Everyone can capture the conditions in the same way once the locations and frequency are determined.

Dave explained that for their pipeline project, the length of the pipeline is marked every 20 meters and the 360° photos are taken at each of those marks every week during the initial stages of construction. Kieren shared that for small projects at ALEC, capturing photos is part of the planning process and usually left to the site manager who will spend a few hours capturing photos twice per week. On larger projects, they will usually designate tradespeople who are trained to use the technology and then required to capture the site twice per week. They currently have a team of 10–12 people specifically dedicated to this kind of work.

The panel really reflects the typical evolution for HoloBuilder clients. Most get started and quickly simplify the process for capturing site photos. The excitement really starts though when they start to see how the technology can simplify and add value to other workflows. This panel gave some really great examples of that.

Better communication with fewer site visits

The limitations imposed by COVID-19 shone a bright light on the benefits of HoloBuilder for the contractors on the panel. For the most part, they are sending a single engineer or small team to the site to capture photos. Giving team members, owners, insurers, or other stakeholders instant access to contemporary site photos is minimizing the impact of the restrictions. So much so, that for some projects, they may rethink the need and frequency for site visits for some projects permanently.

“As people started viewing the photos and understanding what was available through HoloBuilder, they started asking why certain roles had to go to the site every week,” shared Dave. “We’re reducing site visits and their costs. It’s becoming the norm now.”

Dave went on to share that they also studied the cost savings and environmental impact of reduced travel for their pipeline project. Replacing a single site visit, which would have required flights and car travel, reduced their carbon footprint by 0.35 tonnes. In the first phase of the project, they estimate a savings of £10,000 in travel alone. With 2 years left on the project, they anticipate continuing this approach even once the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

At ALEC accessing the 360° photos is the starting point for most project meetings. Especially where they want to have short, focused meetings, they can pull up the site on screen, have everyone on the same page, and be more efficient. For very large projects, even with routine site visits, some key team members may never walk certain areas or rooms. With access to the full project virtually, it’s more feasible to “visit” every square foot of a space if necessary.

Watch the video to see how 360° photo capture technology supports the construction of the world’s longest cantilever in Dubai by enabling remote site access, successful progress management and more.

Kieren also spoke about the value of the site documentation for suppliers, who may be planning 12–18 months in advance. Sometimes those suppliers are in other parts of the world so virtual access to the site conditions gives them full transparency and minimizes the risk of errors or issues on delivery.

Most of the panel also spoke of the value of visibility and transparency into a project for clients who want to know what’s happening on-site and can now easily access it. Health and Safety, as well as quality management teams, are also using the easy access for planning, identifying concerns, and documentation. This use case is a very common one with HoloBuilder users because it gives simplified site access to anyone they choose.

Looking to what’s next

While the focus for our HoloBuilder team will always be on a technology that is easy to use, that doesn’t mean the data can’t be hard-working. It was exciting to hear that as they become familiar with HoloBuilder, their teams are finding different ways to use the technology and make use of the data. Some of my favorite one-on-one conversations with these panelists and other clients are when they share the excitement about how they see themselves using HoloBuilder in the future.

The contractors talked about setting standards and processes, so they can roll the technology out on a larger scale or company-wide. Part of that is capturing feedback and best practices from the field teams — who appear to be a great source of new ideas.

“As the tool becomes the norm, that’s when you start to see the benefits and people start to think about what else they can use it for,” Dave told the panel.

Some panelists talked about immediate next steps for 360° photos and HoloBuilder, including integrations with Autodesk BIM 360. Others are using drones to capture photos on some sites.

Programmed through the HoloBuilder SpotWalk app, the Boston Dynamics’ Spot robot can walk job sites autonomously, capturing 360° photos that record the progress of a construction project over time.

Programmed through the HoloBuilder SpotWalk app, the Boston Dynamics’ Spot robot can walk job sites autonomously, capturing 360° photos that record the progress of a construction project over time.

Christian shared an update on our HoloBuilder “SpotWalk” integration with Boston Dynamics’ autonomous robot Spot, which can be fully equipped with a 360° camera and navigate a construction site. Automated capture can overcome some limits of where people can travel and minimize the need for human resources for photo capture. He also shared the work we’ve done to reinforce data security and how HoloBuilder clients manage shared content.

What seemed to be most exciting to the panelists was the future use of the data captured in the photos. For Hamzah, he’s looking forward to integrations with smart technology that can look for and tag elements in the photos. The example he shared was to identify risk factors like ladders or lifts, so a safety team could flag issues and make recommendations. He sees what they’re doing with the 360° photos today as a starting point that can have many more layers added to it to maximize the use of the data.

Kieren also sees potential in using AI to recognize progress by comparing photos from a single location over time. He gave an example of a single project where they’re turning over $1million per day, which translates into as much as 50–60 subcontractor interim payment claims each month. If technology could help resolve those claims by recognizing progress from site photos over time it would be a huge game-changer.

“Everyone understands when we’re at 0% or 100% of progress, but everything in between has always been a guess,” said Kieren. “This kind of technology can help standardize the industry.”

The panel shared great insight into how they’re using 360° photos today. It’s undoubtedly becoming a routine part of their process and is making their teams more efficient and effective. What I found most interesting is how the panelists started with a single objective of improving site documentation but in a short period of time have uncovered other use cases. The true test of any technology is its ease of use and usefulness.

At HoloBuilder, ease of use will always remain our priority. And as these contractors are finding out, the usefulness of the technology is just starting to emerge.

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What is your main takeaway from the panel discussion? Let us know via email to buildingtogether@holobuilder.com. We are looking forward to hearing from you! Thank you 🙂

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